109th Air Squadron returns home from Afghanistan

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Tina Carter just couldn't wait anymore. "How much longer?" she kept asking her family members in what seemed to be five minute intervals.

You couldn't blame her. Carter, like every other person gathered at the Utah Air National Guard Base in Salt Lake City Thursday night, just wanted her loved one home.

"I can't even tell you. I've been awake since 3 o'clock this morning," said Carter as she waited for the airplane carrying her husband to land. Her husband, Staff Sgt. Zachary Carter, has been gone for six months. He is one of 70 airmen with the 109th Air Control Squadron to return from military missions in Afghanistan.

This was the squadron's fifth deployment in the past 10 years, and although not every airman has been with the unit that long, many have been on multiple deployments. The 109th was responsible for radar surveillance, identification and command and control of coalition aircraft. This unit is only one of a few specialized squadrons in the Air Force, which keeps them busy.

Inside the main hangar were balloons, welcome home signs, and American flags. Most importantly, though, were the families who admit the last hour seemed to be the longest.

"How much longer?" Carter asked again.

At about 7 p.m. the airplane finally landed. As it rolled into view in front of the hangar, the crowd of a few hundred people started cheering. Those cheers only got louder once the plane door opened and airmen dressed in their military camouflage started walking down the stairs.

The airmen and their families knew the wait was finally over.

"This is the greatest moment ever. I've been waiting five months for it," said Staff Sgt. John Ballif, as he hugged his family members.

"It is a wonderful deal to be home and see my family," said Staff Sgt. Tim Jensen, whose wife wouldn't stop kissing him.

For Sr. Airman Brandan Whiting, this homecoming was extra special. He was finally able to hold his newborn son for the first time.

"It's amazing. That's the best I can describe it," said Whiting. "It's just so good to be home."

When Carter finally saw her husband Zachary, nothing was going to stop her from jumping on him. She ran to him, threw her arms around him, and started kissing and hugging him.

"This is like Heaven," said Tina Carter. "It's awesome. I can't wait to get him home."

Sgt. Carter was just happy to be home, where he didn't have to worry about anything else.

"I have my own bed. I have indoor plumbing, just everything. I can't wait to get home," said Sgt. Carter, "I'm glad to be here."

The families are hoping they'll get to stay home for awhile now.

E-mail: acabrero@ksl.com


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